Elwood: It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark … and we are wearing sun glasses.
Jake: Hit it.
— The Blues Brothers
Are you looking for a brain teaser to keep those neurons stimulated and exercised? Well, I got just the one that will stretch your chess imagination.
Back in the day, when Jude traveled widely from the big cities to the dusty, off the beaten path Mayberrys of mid-America, he used to challenge his simultaneous exhibition audiences with this problem — White to play and mate in four moves:
Now, there is a little anecdote about this chess problem. Before I get ahead of myself, let me define a chess “problem.” They are composed, often odd looking, positions that gives you – the solver – a task with very specific stipulations. Composed “problems” are an old, honored, subculture within chess. Problems composed by 8th and 9th century Arabic masters during the golden age of the ancient game of Shatranj, forerunner of modern chess, still intrigue us to this day.
Chess Grandmaster John Nunn, several times a world champion of chess problem solving contests, writes: “Chess problems are an unusual art form in that the audience (solvers) have to participate actively, by solving the problem, in order to appreciate the artist’s message.”
Chess problems are in essence a battle of wits between the composer of the position and the one who is up to the challenge in solving it. Most veteran, over-the-board chess players know at least one or two of the mind bending problems of the great American chess composer Sam Loyd. He was called the “problem king” for good reason. Google “Sam Loyd” if you want to dive into this arcane world of mind games.
Jude would feature every now and then a composed problem in his Berkeley Barb chess column. His “whistlestop” chess problem was rescued and given new life by an admirer from overseas.
The venerable English chess columnist Leonard Barden, 89-years-old, is still going strong with his opinions on world chess and keen analysis of top tournament games. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian. It’s a free column and worth your time to check out. Barden’s column has set the record for the longest running one in chess history – 63 years of uninterrupted coverage.
Barden’s column has cited Jude’s activities several times. However, it was Barden’s widely circulated book Batsford Chess Puzzles, published in 2002, that saved Jude’s challenge puzzle from fading into chess history.
Do you have the position from above set up? Good. Now, I will hand it over to the eloquent Mr. Barden: “A tough puzzle which you’ll do well to solve. White mates in four. American pro Jude Acers used to feature this problem in his nationwide whistlestop tours to gain the immediate attention of his audiences. He offered a prize for the correct answer, yet few could crack the puzzle even during the several hours which Acers took to complete his simultaneous exhibitions. When I mislaid the published answer and had to solve it from scratch, it took me over two hours. Can you do better?”
Can solving chess “problems” be helpful for real world chess? Many coaches advise their students not to engage in such “abstractions.” Other coaches believe it helps chess imagination and calculation skill.
One of the great chess trainers of our time, a former top 10 player in the world, Grandmaster Artur Yusupov recommends occasionally to solve mate in two “problems.” “Exercises with mate in two moves are very well suited for training in the art of calculating short variations with great accuracy,” Yusupov writes in Build Up Your Chess – The Fundamentals. (Fun fact – Jude highly recommends the entire Quality Chess series of Yusupov’s books for chess improvement. “Simple, two minute mini-lessons and lecture diagrams – easy to read,” Jude said.)
Give Jude’s problem a try! I am sure he will be delighted to know you tried. “If I get frustrated and can’t solve it, can I use a chess engine?” you ask. “Heavens, no! Resist if you can. Think! You will be deeply gratified when you solve it on your own.”
As a bonus, here is a classic Sam Loyd problem – White to move and mate in two. This one has stumped many. Hint: most problems don’t begin with a check and the ‘key’ first move by White is unique and unexpected.
You thought I was going to post the answers about here. I know you were peeking to see if the answers were here. The solutions to Jude’s problem and the Sam Loyd problem will appear in a couple of days and you can check them against your solution! In the meantime, enjoy!